Renewed communal violence in Arakan State has exposed the Burmese government’s failure to stop ethnic cleansing, protect minority groups and implement reforms to address the root causes of human rights violations targeting these groups, said the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation, the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma) today. FIDH and Altsean-Burma call on all State security forces to protect all communities from violence and other abuses without discrimination, in light of credible allegations of their role in excessive use of force and arbitrary arrests primarily targeting Muslims since the violence began in June.
This latest round of violence between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya broke out on October 21st in Minbya and Mrauk U Townships and quickly escalated, spreading to Kyaukpyu, Kyauktaw, Rathidaung, Pauktaw, Thandwe, and Rambree Townships. It is not yet clear what triggered the latest violence. Several reports documented attacks against Muslim Rohingya as well as Muslims from the officially recognized Kaman ethnic group.
On Sunday, state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar said that 84 people have been killed since the violence began last week. 2,950 houses and 14 religious buildings have been destroyed. On 29 October, authorities said the death toll from the unrest had reached 88. FIDH and Altsean-Burma fear that the death toll is much higher. Officials and relief agencies said some 22,500 people, mostly Muslim Rohingya, have been displaced by the latest communal violence in western Burma.
On October 26th, the Lower House’s Rule of Law Committee, chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi, submitted an emergency proposal regarding the latest violent clashes, which called on the central government to increase security in the region in order to quell the rioting and to investigate human rights abuses through transparent judicial procedures. In August, the government formed a 27-member investigative commission to probe the Arakan State violence. However, the commission’s independence and impartiality have been questioned as some commission members have publicly expressed strong anti-Rohingya sentiments while none of the members are Rohingya. In addition, the commission has been hindered by local authorities’ failure to cooperate with the investigation.
A fully independent, impartial, and thorough investigation conducted by persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights is essential to establish the facts surrounding the violence since June, identify perpetrators, and address the root causes of racial discrimination and ethnic tension in Arakan State, say the organizations.
“The pervasive culture of impunity has reared its ugly head in Arakan, where the government has done little to either prevent the ethnic cleansing or address the root causes of communal tension and racial discrimination. If anything, the government has largely and conveniently stood by as the Arakan Buddhists, who had suffered under the misrule of the junta for decades, are attacking the Muslim Rohingya while its notoriously abusive security forces are given a free rein in the state,” said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President. Ms. Belhassen added that the government’s current position on the Rohingya is fundamentally inhumane and untenable, allowing communal tension, fueled by state-sponsored discrimination, to spread and undermine the prospects for future democratic reforms.
FIDH and Altsean-Burma say security forces should act immediately to protect all residents in Arakan State without discrimination. However, they say, given the Burmese military’s long record in perpetrating gross human rights violations and the government’s dismal record in ensuring accountability for these violations, heavy militarization of the region is a serious cause for concerns. The government sent troop reinforcements but numerous reports have surfaced of soldiers killing an unknown number of civilians in an effort to stop the riots.
At least 4,000 people have fled by boats to Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, where the government has segregated Muslims, including Rohingya, from the rest of the population and relocated them to internally displaced persons (IDP) camps reportedly surrounded by barbed wire fences and guarded by armed security forces. At least 3,000 Rohingya are believed to have fled the latest violence by sea to the Burma-Bangladesh border, where Bangladeshi security forces have been ordered since June to push back all persons trying to cross the border to seek refuge from the violence.
This spike in IDPs will add to the 75,000 people that have already been displaced by the June violence and who remain in overcrowded camps in squalid conditions. The number of IDPs resulting from the Arakan violence and the ongoing armed conflict in Kachin State has now reached well over 200,000. Humanitarian access in both Arakan and Kachin States remains inadequate and the government must ensure the safe and unfettered delivery of humanitarian aid by both the UN and other organizations able and prepared to provide such aid to all those in need.
In September, FIDH endorsed a set of key recommendations for the 2012 UN General Assembly resolution on the human rights situation in Burma, including those on the violence in Arakan State, such as calls to the government to bring perpetrators to justice without discrimination and to “end all forms of discrimination in law and in practice and to prevent and punish incitement of racial or religious hatred in accordance with due process of law.” FIDH and Altsean-Burma believe that communal violence in Arakan State is not only a tragic consequence of long-standing discrimination and state-sponsored racism against Muslim Rohingya, but also the result of a broader pattern of abusive polices inherited from the military junta in a context of on-going impunity.
“In addition to meeting the immediate and urgent protection and humanitarian needs, the Burmese government must implement human rights-based legislative, institutional, and policy reforms to end serious violations and tackle impunity in Burma, particularly in Arakan, Kachin, and other ethnic areas affected by ongoing armed conflict or heavy militarization,” said Debbie Stothard, FIDH Deputy Secretary-General and Altsean-Burma Coordinator.